Jolly Mondegreen Giant Sleeps in Heavenly Peas

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's not eating nice."

Bill Hoelzel sent me this charming rendering of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by his 3-year-old grandson. It's one of many delightful responses I received to my recent request for mondegreens, phrases based on misunderstandings of spoken English. (The term "...Read more

New Word Books Deserve a Kiss

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point."

If you find yourself standing under the mistletoe this holiday season, keep that punctuational maxim in mind. It comes from the French actress and singer Mistinguett and appears in Mardy Grothe's delightful compendium "Metaphors Be With You" (Harper Collins, $19.99). It's just...Read more

When 'Should'a' Contraction Be Used?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Could'a, would'a, should'a.

We know it's OK to use contractions in speech, but when should they be used in writing?

Until the early 20th century, most teachers treated contractions like cockroaches scuttling and hissing through students' sentences. These fuming pedagogues fumigated, ordering students never to use contractions. Of course, ...Read more

The Immortal Voice of Elephants Gerald

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Mistakes of the ear can bring us cheer!

A few days after a music teacher told her students that her favorite singer was Ella Fitzgerald, she gave her class a quiz with this extra-credit question: "Who is Ms. Smith's favorite singer?" One student wrote, "Elephants Gerald."

When a man visiting Acadia National Park asked park ranger Deb Hardick...Read more

Hurtling Past Linguistic Hurdles

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Today I confront five of my linguistic bugaboos -- usage choices that perplex me every time I encounter them.

--Hurtle or hurdle? Perhaps because my good friend in high school hurdled (jumped) over hurdles as he hurtled (sped) down the track, I've always confused these verbs.

Use "hurtle" when you mean "to speed" (The spacecraft was hurtling...Read more

'Gussy Up' for a Walk on the 'Shore'line

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"The world needs to shore up assistance for impoverished countries." "The University of California has moved to shore up the security for its computer network." "Europe's central bank is trying to shore up the economy.

As these sentences from recent newspaper stories suggest, there's a whole lot of "shoring up" going on these days. But how ...Read more

Try the Flaming House Specialty

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Today, we present "the dirty dozen" -- 12 errors that readers have spotted in newspapers and magazines:

1. "Designed to immolate a craftsman-style farmhouse, The National Tavern is warm and welcoming." I'll bet it's warm! (submitted by Larry Gavrich, Avon, Conn.)

2. "Our friends run the gauntlet from creating Facebook and Twitter profiles ...Read more

Have Fun With This QU I--Z

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I recently challenged you with a quiz on frequently-confused words, based on a list compiled by Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn. That quiz comprised words from the first half of the alphabet, and many of you have asked for more. So here's a second quiz covering letters I through Z on Bob's list. Good luck!

1. Some readers made (invidious, ...Read more

'Media' Says 'Underway' Is 'Alright'?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Faithful reader Leo Rockas rocked me recently when he emailed me three challenging questions: When did "under way" become one word? When did "media" become singular? When did "all right" become "alright"?

--underway/under way: Traditionally, usage authorities have insisted on a distinction between these two forms, claiming that "underway" ...Read more

Meanings Meander Through History

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We think of words as immutable -- sturdy bricks with permanent meanings that we can interlock to build solid walls of clarity. Phrases such as "I give you my word" reflect our faith in unchanging definitions.

But in fact, words are more like brooks than bricks. They overflow, carve new channels, change their courses, reverse themselves, and ...Read more

We're Getting 'Ahead' of Ourselves

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

TV Commentator: Both presidential campaigns are gearing up ahead of the November election.

Viewer: You mean they're gearing up BEFORE the November election?

As reader NJ DeVico of Titusville, N.J., reminds me, "ahead of" has replaced the straightforward "before" in the blather of the commentariat. And just tonight I heard the local TV ...Read more

Your 'Quiz'otic Quest Starts Here

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Bob Barton of Farmington, Conn., has kindly sent me a list of frequently confused words compiled during his 30-year editing career. I've incorporated some from the first half of the alphabet into a quick quiz. Can you select the correct word in each sentence?

1. This quiz is (altogether, all together) too difficult. 2. This quiz will (...Read more

Wheels Come Off 'You're Welcome' Wagon

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

When you say "Thank you" to someone these days, which response are you LEAST likely to receive? "No worries." "No problem." "My pleasure." "You're welcome." "Happy to help." "You got it." "Not at all." "Don't mention it." "It was nothing." "Thank YOU!"

If you guessed "You're welcome," you're right.

This gracious phrase, once the universal, ...Read more

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